By Robert Lucke
When most folks think about St. Patrick's Day fun in Montana, they think of Butte. However, the many guests of Ralph and Marilee Russell say their St. Patrick's parties are something else.
This is the 20th year of St. Patrick's parties at their Havre home.
Not only that but with six generations of Russells named after the Irish patriot Robert Emmett Russell, as Marilee Russell puts it, the party, like the day is God given.
"Ralph and I were married 30 years ago on the 19th of March so for 30 years, 20 of them in Havre, we have had a party," said Marilee Russell.
Year after year is a complete surprise for the Russells.
"I remember the year the dining room table went down," said Marilee Russell. "All the children were sitting on it to see the dancers and the whole thing hit the dust. Little by little, we put everything back together again and the party went on."
Then there was the last year that there were so many people that someone could get in the front door but not out again. The count for that party was 140. That is large even by Russell standards, 40 is a small gathering at St. Patrick's Day.
People, song, all ages and lots to eat characterize Russells' parties.
"It all started simply because we celebrate the day," Marilee Russell said. "It is an act of God. It is always a surprise. We have never sent invitations. People just come to the door.
"We do have a green porch light and the party is for all ages. The little kids have a basket of flashlights and we make leprechaun paths in the snow or grass and kids go out and follow those glittery paths. We have green beer for some, a sherbet punch for the children and Francine Brady always brings grasshoppers, which are my personal favorite."
Food there is plenty for the guests. Someone might bring corned beef and cabbage. Someone else may bring soda bread but the main fare is two ovens filled with baked potatoes. Many guests bring crock pots filled with toppings.
There are not just Irish there. There is a German contingent, a Czech contingent, a Turkish group and, yes, even at times Irish directly from the old country.
"One year there were some people straight from Ireland at the party," Marilee Russell said. "I think they thought that we Irish Americans have lots more fun than they do. In Ireland, it is much more of a religious holiday."
One of the best of all the Havre parties was the St. Patrick's Day when Russells celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
"The whole house was decorated in emerald and silver," Marilee Russell said. "It was so exciting and such a surprise."
One sad note, for the 20 years the Russells have been having their party, a St. Francis statue has greeted guests from the front porch. The statue was stolen this winter.
"This is the first year that guests won't be greeted by St. Francis," Marilee Russell said. "This year they will be greeted by Otto, the barking dog."
Marilee Russell will be entertaining with accordion music, some of which will correspond to the one-quarter Scotch, that she is. No one knows yet tonight what kind of a party it will be this year, but most all know they will be back next year.
It's just one of the things you do for St. Patrick's Day in Havre.